After a baby elephant became trapped in a man-made watering hole, a rescue team from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust swooped in to rescue the animal and return it to its mother.
The rescue took place in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park. The dramatic event was filmed by Christian Heimann, a tourist who was visiting the park from Switzerland with his wife and friend. (See another touching elephant reunion.)
Such man-made watering holes are relatively common in African parks around lodges, says Joyce Poole, a National Geographic explorer who studies elephant behavior.
“Often lodges will build a water trough or hole to attract animals so guests can sip their drinks and watch wildlife,” says Poole, who watched the clip of the rescue.
Adult elephants have more experience and skill when it comes to getting water, knowing when to settle down onto their knees or suck up water through their trunks. But baby elephants—also called calves—are not as poised or practiced and they often get into trouble, particularly in dry areas, where they rely on man-made structures for water.
“The babies are thirsty and sometimes they will topple in or try to access the water and will fall in,” says Poole.
And although the watering hole doesn’t look very deep, the elephant was likely a newborn, says Poole, due to the slight pinkish hue of its skin.
“Maybe it could have clambered out if it had a few more days of experience...but it was probably under a week old and still getting a sense of what’s about,” Poole says. (Learn what elephant calls mean.)
In most cases, the mother is typically able to save the calf herself, which makes Poole think perhaps this is a young, first-time mother. Additionally, the mama elephant appears agitated and distressed: her tail was lifted, her head was up, her ears were tensed, and she was scraping and kicking the ground.
The mother would never have left the youngster, Poole says, which is likely why the crew used a helicopter to conduct the rescue. No one would have been able to approach the baby without first chasing off the mother, or they would have put themselves in mortal danger.
And although mama and baby were reunited, Poole points out that the calf appeared to sustain an injury to its left hind leg. The young animal walked away with a limp, which could make it more attractive to predators.